Medically reviewed by Dr. Charisse Litchman, MD, FAHS on August 18, 2020
There are medications you take when you experience a headache. There has been a great deal of progress in the development of new medications to “abort” or take your headaches away.
Over-the-counter painkillers and prescription anti-inflammatories: For mild to moderate headaches, some people respond to over-the-counter Tylenol or Advil, or prescription anti-inflammatory medications.
Prescription triptans: For moderate to severe headaches, many patients see success with medications called “triptans.” The triptan drugs were the first medications ever designed specifically to treat migraines. They work by stimulating serotonin (a chemical in the brain), reducing inflammation and narrowing the blood vessels, ultimately stopping the migraine. These medications are not for everyone because the narrowing of the vessels may be dangerous for patients with heart disease or other high-risk conditions like uncontrolled hypertension.
Prescription ditans: These newer medications also work by increasing the effects of serotonin. Because these drugs dilate the vessels, they are safer for many patients than triptans.
CGRP blockers: Called “gepants,” these medications block the chemical CGRP. When released, CGRP causes the release of pain chemicals in the brain so by blocking CGRP, the migraine ends quickly in most patients. These medications are also safe for most patients.
Beyond medications, many people find that non-medical remedies can improve or eliminate headache symptoms. Extra hydration, icing the head, and lying down in a dark room are all strategies that some migraine patients find helpful.